What is the menopause?
The menopause is a natural event and occurs when your ovaries stop producing eggs and make less oestrogen (the main female hormone). Menopause actually means your last menstrual period. It is often difficult to know when this is for many women, especially if you are having more scanty and irregular periods.
The term perimenopausal is often used, which describes the time when you have menopausal symptoms before your periods actually stop all together. Some women continue to have regular periods even though they experience numerous symptoms of the menopause.
Women are said to have gone through their menopause (so are postmenopausal) when they have not had a period at all for one year. The average age of the menopause in the UK is 51 years. It is common to have some perimenopausal symptoms when you are in your late 40s.
What are the common symptoms of the menopause?
Some women have very few or even no symptoms and their periods simply stop happening. However, for the majority of women it is not so straightforward and around 80% of all women experience several symptoms. The symptoms you may experience vary between different women. These symptoms often have a very negative impact on your life and can really affect your relationships with your partner, family and work colleagues.
Symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disruption, insomnia, exhaustion, mood swings, palpitations, chest pain, breathlessness, depression, anxiety, hair loss or thinning, vaginal dryness, bladder weakness, incontinence, urinary tract infections, lack of libido, change of body shape, dry eyes, dry mouth, memory loss, poor concentration, brain “fog”, aching joints and muscles, headaches and migraines.
How is the skin affected during the perimenopause and menopause?
Oestrogen is very important for the development of collagen, which is a supporting protein in the skin and provides strength and structure to the skin.
As oestrogen levels reduce during the menopause and perimenopause, your skin can become less mobile and thinner. The low oestrogen levels can result in there being less blood flowing to the epidermis (upper layer of your skin) and also more water loss from your skin leading to your skin becoming less hydrated. You may notice that your skin becomes more tired looking and develops more fine lines and wrinkles. The skin often becomes less elastic and looks less glowing as hormone levels decline.
Your skin can become drier and become itchy. This itchiness can occur during the day and night and be really troublesome. Some women notice abnormal sensations to their skin, such as numbness, tingling, prickling or a crawling sensation (called formication).
During the perimenopause and menopause, many women also experience acne and skin pigment changes.
Does the skin become more sensitive to the effects of the sun?
Menopausal skin is more susceptible to UV damage causing deeper wrinkling and sun damage like age spots and lentigo, which are small brown spots on the skin.
The maintenance of melanocytes (cells that manufacture the pigment melanin) is under the control of oestrogen. The number of melanocytes in your skin reduces during the perimenopause and menopause. This results in there being less of the protective melanin and your skin can appear lighter. Menopausal skin is therefore more prone to sun damage.
In areas of the skin that have been exposed to UV rays over the years, melanin synthesis increases during the menopause. This can result in brown “age spots” appearing on your face, hands, neck, arms and chest.
What are the best ways of looking after your skin during the perimenopause and menopause?
It is really important to use a good moisturiser regularly to improve your skin’s hydration. Moisturisers smooth and protect the upper layers of your skin and can work to prevent trans-epidermal water loss.
It is essential that you use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF 30 to protect against UVB rays and avoid sun damage. Sunscreen should be reapplied every few hours. You should also consider wearing a wide brimmed hat.
Taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can improve skin hydration by replacing oestrogen levels in your body. Many women who take HRT often notice that their skin becomes brighter with an improved texture and tone. HRT can also reduce ageing of your skin. Your skin often looks firmer and plumper as the oestrogen works to strengthen the collagen and elastin fibres.
For the majority of women under 60 years of age, the benefits of HRT outweigh the risks.
Last updated: January 2018